by Sean O'Conner (long-time Sonoma Beerocrats member)
We’ve had a lot of interaction with Sean as a customer here at The Beverage People including judging on some panels at competitions locally and as a member of the local brew club - the Sonoma Beerocrats. He’s been an active brewer since 1992 when his roommate was the general manager of Boston Beerworks across from Fenway Park in Boston. Their head brewer turned him on to a homebrew shop in Cambridge, MA. He is a BJCP recognized judge and brews as often as possible.
We asked him to provide our readers with some of his insights to brewing with fruit and his article is a great starting point.
Sonoma County provides year-round access to a variety of seasonal fruit. It is the constant availability of high quality, local, fresh fruit that inspired me to start fermenting beer with fruit. I have never been a fan of most fruit beers traditionally available in brew pubs. Most follow the formula of taking a basic American Wheat Ale or Blonde Ale and adding a fruit flavoring of choice. These raspberry, blueberry, or peach flavored beers seem to persist on beer boards to satisfy the palates of the most entry level of craft beer drinkers. I have brewed the occasional version of this style and they can be quite enjoyable, particularly on a hot, summer day. But that is not what this article is about.
Using fresh fruit to make beer is a completely different process and more challenging then adding a bottle of flavoring into your keg or bottling bucket.
Some variables to consider are the type of fruit, beer style, grain bill composition and desired end product. Do you want a sturdy version of a classic style with a hint of fruit flavor and/or aroma? Or are you going for a very fruit forward style with just enough beer character in the background to remind folks that it is not a fruit wine?
The first and most important question is the type of fruit you want to use. I have successfully used cherries, plums, apricots, figs, grapes and persimmons. These fruits all provide ample sugars, enticing flavors and balancing tannins to make fantastic beers. Following are a couple of general notes to help with the process:
Once your secondary fermentation is completed, rack the beer off of the fruit into another fermenting vessel. Let the beer set until clear. Lagering is the preferred method to drop out any lingering yeast and fruit particles. The fruit is usually decimated after a robust secondary fermentation. Bottle or keg as usual and enjoy with friends and family.